What is hemp and why is everybody talking about it?
Here are a few facts to feed your head...
Farmers around the world grow hemp. Legally. And they've been doing so for thousands of years. View a timeline of hemp throughout history here.
Hemp is a plant grown from a seed. It can get up to 15 to 20 or so feet tall. It is an annual, herbaceous, long fibre plant similar to flax (linen), jute and ramie. [i]
It's the sister plant to marijuana but it won't get you high. However, it's good at doing almost anything else except making you 'high'. You'll learn more about its versatility in this document.
Although hemp and marijuana are both from the cannabis species, hemp contains virtually no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.) If you smoke hemp you will likely get a headache. You will not get 'high'. Its THC level is less than 1%, whereas marijuana may contain between 5 - 15%.[iii]
Its seeds are pressed for oil that can be used for food (salad dressings, supplements, etc.), industrial lubrication, diesel fuel, paints, varnishes and more.
Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. [ii]
Hemp is among the oldest industries on the planet, going back more than 10,000 years to the beginnings of pottery. [iv]
The Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a piece of Mesopotamian hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.[v]
For more than a century, hemp was legal tender to pay American taxes.[vi]
The 2002 figures for global hemp sales were US$250 million. US$150 million in the United States alone.[ix]
The HIA (Hemp Industries Association) is confident that the total North American hemp food and body care market in 2008 accounted for at least $100 million in retail sales. In 2005-2008, hemp food sales have averaged 47% annual growth, making hemp one of the fastest-growing natural food categories. Source.
Less than 15 years later, US Hemp CBD marketwill hit $5.3B In sales In 2021. The Farm Bill, recent and historic legislature, legalized hemp production in 2018. It is time for other hemp products to follow.
For the first 162 years of America's existence, marijuana was totally legal and hemp was a common crop. But during the 1930s, the U.S. government and the media began spreading outrageous lies about marijuana, which led to its prohibition. ("Marijuana: The devil's weed with roots in hell", "Marijuana makes fiends of boys in 30 days", “Reefer Madness”, etc.) It was banned in the USA under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. In a blatant case of mistaken identity, industrial hemp was banned along with it.[x]
It is said that the motivation for the hemp ban was that new processing technologies were developed that made it a potential competitor with the newly founded synthetic fibre and plastics industries. Hemp's potential for producing paper also posed a threat to the timber and oil industries. Evidence suggests that commercial interests, having much to lose from hemp competition, helped propagate the reefer madness hysteria and used their influence to lobby for Marijuana Prohibition. It is debatable at to whether special interests conspired to destroy the hemp industry via Marijuana Prohibition, but evidence exists to raise the possibility.[xi]
In Canada, parliament passed Bill C-8 in May of 1997, freeing industrial hemp from the drug legislation imposed in 1938 when Canada’s Opium and Narcotics Control Act followed the United States’ lead and banned hemp production. The responsibilities to regulate the “new” crop were given to Health Canada. [xii] (The UK lifted its ban in 1993.[xiii])
Agricultural hemp was allowed on an experimental basis by federal law under the Agricultural Act of 2014 (farm bill).Under the 2018 United States farm bill, commodity hemp production was federally legalized. It removed hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Before the Farm Bill of 2018 passed, cannabidiol oil or "CBD" and the psychoactive "THC" had no legal differentiation[xv]
-Used for thousands of years by a wide variety of cultures, hemp is currently being used worldwide in industries such as fabric, food, bio-diesel fuel, paper, plastics, rope, building material, molded panels, car components, wallpaper, acoustic baffling and barn bedding for farm animals.[xvii]
125 years ago, 70 to 90 percent of all rope, twine, cordage, ship sails, canvas, fibre, cloth, etc., was made out of hemp fibre. It was replaced by Dupont’s then newly discovered petrochemical fibre (nylon) beginning in 1937. [xviii]
The hemp plant is highly resistant to most insect and disease, largely eliminating the need for most (or all) pesticides and herbicides.[xix]
No herbicides have been approved for industrial hemp. Early planting, as soon as the soil is warm enough, is a recommended weed control strategy.[xx]
A normal stand of 200 to 300 plants per square meter shades out weeds, leaving the fields weed-free at harvest and covered in leaves that improve the soil in a self-mulching eco-system.[xxi]
Industrial hemp can be grown on a wide variety of soil types, but tends to grow best on land that produces high yields of corn.[xxii]
Hemp prefers a mild climate, humid atmosphere, and a rainfall of at least 25-30 inches per year. [xxiii]
Yields can reach between 3 to 7 tons of dry hemp fibre stalk per acre.[xxvi]
HEMP IS THE NUMBER ONE biomass producer on planet earth: 10 tons per acre in approximately four months. It is a woody plant containing 77% cellulose. Wood produces 60% cellulose.[xxvii]
Low abrasion means low impact on farm equipment and workers hands. [xxviii]
Hemp was one of Canada's first agricultural exports when the fibre was sold to Britain and France for use in their navies. It was common practice for tracts of land to be issued to settlers in Canada on the provision that they grow hemp.[xxix]
During World War II the U.S. government relaxed the anti-hemp laws and spurred mid-western farmers to grow over a million acres of the plant for the war effort. “Hemp For Victory” was the name of the informational film made by U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1942.[xxx] Decades later they denied they ever made the film. This was disproven by researchers in 1989 when they found evidence of it at the Library of Congress.[xxxi]
Of all the hemp grown in Canada, almost all of it was for seed, oil and construction material. Little went to the fabric industry. Most fabric is imported from China and Europe. [xxxii] See Canadian farming acreage stats here.
Fibres, Fabric & Clothing:
The agriculture world’s longest and most durable natural fibres are hemp’s ‘bast’ fibres, contained in the bark of the plant’s stalk. [xxxiii]
CinemaSpace, in Montreal, is Canada's first cinema to use hemp fabric to cover its seats.
In 1853, the first pair of Levi’s jeans was made. Due to a fire in the Levis archives (San Francisco's Great Earthquake and Fire - 1906 ) it can no longer be proven, but many believe the first pair of Levis were made from hemp.
The word canvas (traditionally made from hemp) comes from cannabis (Latin). This word comes from kaneh-bosem, Hebrew for ‘aromatic cane’. [xxxv]
Hemp is anti-microbial, anti-mildew, naturally UV resistant and readily takes on eco-safe plant-based dyes. [xxxviii]
Frequently blended with cotton, silk, tencel, bamboo, spandex and other fibres to make a wide variety of fabrics with various attractive properties. It is also an efficient insulator keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer.[xxxix]
A 2000 year-old hemp-rope toupé was found in Sichuan, China. Source.
It is said that a parachute rigging made of hemp saved the life of George Bush Sr. when the young bomber pilot bailed out of his burning plane.[xl]
Compared to Cotton:
Environmentally, hemp is a safer crop to grow than cotton. Cotton is a soil-damaging crop and needs a great deal of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.[xliii]
Cotton crops in the USA occupy 1% of the country’s farmland but use 50% of all pesticides. [xliv] "The pesticides used on cotton, whether in the U.S. or oversees, are some of the most hazardous available today," says Doug Murray, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Colorado State University who has studied pesticide use on cotton overseas. Source.
1 acre of hemp will produce as much as 2-3 acres of cotton.[xlv]
Hemp is 4 times warmer than cotton, 4 times more water absorbent, has 3 times the tensile strength of cotton. It is also many times more durable and is flame retardant.[xlvi]
Many high fashion clothing manufacturers have produced clothes and footwear made with hemp. Some of these include: Nike, Converse, Armani, Patagonia, Polo Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and many more.[xlvii]
Hemp fabrics were once far more expensive than cotton and other fabrics due to limited supply, but increased demand and availability in recent years have lowered the price considerably. [xlviii]
Hemp breathes well and wicks moisture away from the body better than cotton. [xlix]
HT Naturals (Canada’s largest hemp t-shirt supplier) asserts that selecting their hemp/cotton blended t-shirt over an all-cotton t-shirt saves the environment 744 gallons of water. This company has recently partnered with Canada’s National Research Council to create Crailar an enzyme that will make hemp fibres as soft as cotton.[l]
Hemp paper can be made from both the outer fibres of the hemp stalk (bast fibres) as well as the inner core (or ‘hurd’ fibres) of the stalk.[li]
One acre of hemp (grown in a single season) yields as much paper as up to 4 acres of trees (which take many more years to grow). [lii]
Hemp paper is stronger, acid free, has a longer shelf life and costs less than half as much to process as tree paper. [liii]
Hemp paper can be recycled 10 times whereas wood-based paper can only be recycled twice without losing integrity and requiring additional virgin fibre content.[liv]
China, the world's first paper maker, used hemp to make paper 1,900 years ago. [lv]
Both the Gutenberg Bible (15th C.) and the King James Bible (17th C.) were printed on hemp-based papers. [lvi]
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson, a hemp farmer, wrote the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.[lvii]
Since deforestation is a serious environmental concern, hemp can offer a significant contribution to the world’s environment as well as its economy.[lviii]
Building Materials and Plastics:
The core of the hemp stalk is used to produce fibreboard, insulation, carpet, fiberglass substitute, cement blocks, concrete, stucco and mortar.[lix]
Hemp oil extracted from hemp seeds is used in the production of plastics, oil paints, varnishes, inks, solvents, lubricants, putty and coatings.[lx]
In an effort to initiate industrial hemp production, a Native farmer named Alex White Plume on his reservation in South Dakota built a house entirely out of what he calls “Hempcrete” bricks. [lxi]
In 1941, Popular Mechanics ran a story featuring a photograph of Henry Ford standing next to the car he “grew from the soil”. The hemp-ethanol fueled and hemp-resin bodied vehicle was a dream of his but many bills proposing a national agricultural based fuel energy program were killed by smear campaigns launched by vested petroleum interests. One claim put forth was that the U.S. government's plans "robbed taxpayers to make farmers rich". [lxii]
Hemp planting reduces deforestation and improves the soil upon which it is grown.[lxiii]
All products made solely from hemp fibre are biodegradable, compostable and recyclable. As such, they are easy on landfills.[lxiv]
A lightweight product: for greater fuel efficiency in transport, ease of handling, increased payload capacity.
Hemp advocates say it is possible to leave the forests alone and go back to making paper from hemp, but is that really feasible? Technically, yes. Once plant cellulose is turned into pulp, machines cannot tell the difference between it and wood pulp.[lxv]
A worker-friendly, non-toxic material
Food and Nutrition:
Of the 3 million plus edible plants that grow on Earth, no other plant source can compare with the nutritional value of hempseeds. [lxvi]
Hemp is edible as whole seeds, hulled seed (the hemp ‘nut’ or 'heart'), protein powder, or as oil extracted from seeds.
It is used in salad dressings, protein bars, breads, cakes, soups, beer, butters, shakes, milk, breakfast cereals and many more food products and recipes.
Hemp plants produce seeds that contain between 25-35% oil by weight. This non-trans-fatty-acid oil is high in a perfect balance of essential fatty acids (EFAs: Omega-3, 6, 9) considered to be necessary to maintain health. [lxviii] Hemp's EFA profile provides a healthy alternative to fish, often high in mercury and other toxins.
Hemp's overall protein content of 35% is comparable to soybeans and is higher than that found in nuts, other seeds, meats, dairy products and fish or poultry. Hemp protein contains all of the essential amino acids in more nutritionally significant amounts and at a ratio closer to "complete" sources of protein (like meat, milk and eggs) than all other seeds except soy. [lxix]
65% of the proteins in hemp are "edestin," which are easily digestible and act as pre-cursors to such vital body components as hormones, hemoglobin, enzymes and antibodies. Hemp's edestin structure is the highest in the plant kingdom, making it more digestible than soy and many other plant foods. [lxx]
The hardiness and nutritional benefits of hemp could help address many of the world’s starvation problems.[lxxii]
Hemp should not be cooked at temperatures over 350F because at this emperature the fats are in danger of becoming "trans" and thus unhealthy. Source.
NOT including Whole Foods Markets sales, hemp food sales in North America grew by 39% over the previous year (from August 2006 to August 2007), or by $2.1 million, to a total of $7.7 million. Based on this, it is estimated that the total retail value of hemp foods sold in this period in North America grew from $14 million (in 2006) to approximately $20 million in 2007. Source.
View a detailed scientific breakdown of the hemp seed here.
Industrial hemp would be a viable bio-diesel fuel if hemp were legal to cultivate in the United States.
In 2001, the “Hemp Car”, a converted 1980s diesel Mercedes station wagon drove a 13,000 mile 50 city tour of North America. It was powered by solely by 600 gallons of hemp bio-diesel fuel made from the stalk of the hemp plant.[lxxiii]
The exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide from bio-diesel are 47% lower than carbon monoxide emissions from diesel.[lxxiv]
Bio-diesel reduces the health risks associated with petroleum diesel. Bio-diesel emissions showed decreased levels of PAH and nitrited PAH compounds, which have been, identified as potential cancer causing compounds.[lxxv]
In a period of 28 days, pure bio-diesel degrades 85 to 88 percent in water.[lxxvi]
Any CO2 released from burning hemp as fuel matches the CO2 the plant had beneficially taken from the environment wile growing, creating what is called a closed carbon cycle that could slow down the effects of global warming[lxxvii]
Body Care Products:
Thanks to its nourishing oil, hemp is booming in the personal hygiene industry with hemp found in soaps, shampoos, lotions, lip balms, bath oils, personal lubricants and more.
Due to the large hemp body care line sold by The Body Shop, as well as the fact that many unreported leading mass-market brands of sun tan lotion and sunscreen products include hemp oil, the HIA (Hemp Industries Association) estimates the total retail value of North American hemp body care sales to be at least $50 million. Source.
Cosmetics manufacturers, such as Revlon, include hemp oil in makeup, lotion and shampoo. In Europe they’re using hemp in household cleaners as a natural alternative to harsher chemicals.[lxxix]
Hemp Around The World:
Chinese: Ma 大麻
Japanese: Taima 麻
“Make the most of Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.”
-George Washington, 1794
[i] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997), 12
[ii] ibid., 8
[iii] ibid., 12
[iv] Hemp Industry Association, USA
[v] “New Enzyme Technology Changing The Way Textiles And Composites Are Made”, Hemptown, 2005
[vi] “All you need to know about hemp”, Sholeh Patrick, Hagadone News Network, April 16, 2005
[viii] “Industrial Hemp Production: History and Current Comeback” Nabi Chaudhary, Senior Economic Analyst, Crops, Alberta Gov’t, 2005
[ix] “Education, Registration, Mobilization”, VoteHemp.com 2005
[x] “Marijuana and Hemp: The Untold Story” Thomas Bouril, 1997
[xii] “Commercial Cultivation of Industrial Hemp Approved in Canada”, Health Canada, 1998
[xiii] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997), 21
[xiv] “While You Were Sleeping: The Hemp Bill”, Joel Makower, The Huntington Post, 2005
[xvi] “Canada’s Industrial Hemp Industry”, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, updated 2005-03-08
[xvii] Various sources. Numerous manufacturers of hemp products can readily be found online.
[xviii] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993)
[xix] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997), 10
[xx] “Growing Industrial Hemp In Ontario”, W.J. Baxter, Gov’t of Ontario, 2000
[xxi] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997), 11
[xxii] “Hemp Defined”, North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC)
[xxiii] “Industrial Hemp: A Cropping Guide For Farmers”, Peter Dragla M. Sc., University of Guelph, ON
[xxiv] 6-15 feet: “Canada’s Industrial Hemp Industry”, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, updated 2005-03-08
[xxv] 70-90 days: “Industrial Hemp: A Cropping Guide For Farmers”, Peter Dragla M. Sc., University of Guelph, Ontario
[xxvi] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997), 10
[xxvii] “Energy Farming In America”, Lynn Osburn
[xxviii] “Hemp Blended Into Auto Parts”, Alisa Priddle, Windsor (ON) Star, February 26, 1998
[xxix] “THE HISTORY OF HEMP IN CANADA“ themptations.com
[xxx] “Marijuana and Hemp: The Untold Story” Thomas Bouril, 1997
[xxxi] Herer, Jack, “Hemp For Victory - Coverup” - http://www.totse.com/en/drugs/marijuana/hfv_ref.html
[xxxii] Gleaned from discussions with various people in the industry.
[xxxiii] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993), Ch. 1
[xxxiv] “Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Allied Industries”, Board of Studies, New South Wales, Australia, 1999
[xxxv] “MEDICAL MARIJUANA AS MITZVAH A STUDY GUIDE”, thcministry.org
[xxxvi] Efforts Clothing Company, Ontario
[xxxvii] Interiors & Sources, David Mahood, Aug., 2004.
[xxxviii] Efforts Clothing, Ontario; BuyFabricsDirect.com
[xxxix] Various sources for blending; “Hemp - not just good for making blue jeans!”, Hempro.com
[xl] “Effort to Revive Hemp Industry Encounters Stigma of Marijuana”, David Kelly, LA Times, Nov. 7, 2002
[xli] Warmthreads.com (natural fibre yarns supplier)
[xlii] hemptraders.com and numerous other sites on the Web. This seems to be a popular expression in the business.
[xliii] “Frequently Asked Questions about Cannabis Hemp”, Brian S. Julin, 1994, reprinted at hempfarm.org
[xliv] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993)
[xlv] “Marijuana and Hemp: The Untold Story” Thomas Bouril, 1997
[xlvi] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993)
[xlvii] Various sources.
[xlviii] Personal buying experience
[xlix] Efforts Clothing, Ontario
[li] “Hemp pulp and paper production: Paper from hemp woody core”, Birgitte de Groot, March, 1995
[lii] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997)
[liii] “Hemp Through History” ecomall.com, “CROPS: Cotton, Hemp, Flax and Kenaf”, oldgrowthfree.com
[liv] “CROPS: Cotton, Hemp, Flax and Kenaf”, oldgrowthfree.com
[lvii] “The US Hemp Market: An economic examination of the hemp industry.” Richard A. Adams, Baker College Center for Graduate Studies
[lviii] Author’s assertion. However, it is understood that the hemp farming acreage, farmer know-how and processing technology still has a ways to go before this will be the case. The paper companies would also have to stop cutting down trees as quickly as they are. More on this topin in: John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997)
[lix] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997) 15
[lxi] “Oglala Sioux Tribe To Plant Industrial Hemp Crops”, Press Release, Tom Cooke, April 29, 2000
[lxiii] John W. Roulac, Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant, (Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997) 11
[lxv] “Hemp: Paper: Chinese Background”, http://www.innvista.com/health/hemp/paper.htm
[lxvi] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993), Chapter 8
[lxvii] SPINS report, 2005, Commissioned by Dr. Bronner Company
[lxviii] “What is Hemp?”, Hempline.com
[lxix] “Harvest Time For Hemp In Canada”, Press Release, Manitoba Harvest Inc., Aug. 16, 2005
[lxx] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993), Chapter 8
[lxxi] “Harvest Time For Hemp In Canada”, Press Release, Manitoba Harvest Inc., Aug. 16, 2005
[lxxii] The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer, (Ah Ha Publishing, 1993), Chapter 8
[lxxiv] “BIODIESEL EMISSIONS COMPARED TO CONVENTIONAL DIESEL”, Soypower.net
[lxxvi] “Pollution: Petrol Vs. Hemp”, hempcar.org
[lxxvii] Chris Conrad, Hemp: Lifeline To The Future (Creative Xpressions: 1994)
[lxxviii] SPINS report, 2005, Commissioned by Dr. Bronner Company